Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Blue Cod

This morning there was a native pigeon in next door’s large kowhai tree. It seemed to be pecking at the barely formed blossom buds. I suppose winter food is scarce but it seemed small pickings. Nature’s prunings – there will at least be flowers on the smaller twigs that couldn’t carry the bird’s weight,

Anne’s in Auckland. Jo is looking after me. Last night we dined in style – blue cod caught in Cook Strait on Sunday. Matt brought the fish. He is our neighbours’ son from our previous house. I remember him as a school-boy. He’s now a computer whizz-kid, with an apartment in New York. He works there for several months and then comes back to New Zealand for a holiday. He stores a boat at Island Bay and goes fishing when the weather’s suitable. He was wearing a very jaunty hat bought in a New York store.

When I was a boy, blue cod was renowned as the best fish available. There were a few caught around Banks Peninsula but local people spoke longingly of fishing for it in the Marlborough Sounds. At Fail’s Fish Café in Christchurch the menu said Queen Charlotte blue cod. Fails had a striking mural based on Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea running around its walls. Mum loved sole, my stepfather the blue cod, my brother and I superior fish and chips, tarakihi

At home we sometimes had groper, caught by rafts or kon-tiki floated off the beach at Birdling’s Flat. The hooks were baited with eel pieces. With an outgoing tide and an easterly offshore wind the raft was launched. When the tide turned and the wind dropped – as the land warmed the wind often changed direction – the rope was hauled in through the surf. Great calculations went on as Uncle Charlie worked out the best time to undertake this activity. As the line came in there would be dogfish galore, the odd skate and usually several large groper.

My adults also used to go floundering in Akaroa Harbour. Great excitement as the net was hauled in and we’d usually feast well that evening. Sometimes the men would row off-shore to fish – mainly red-cod, relatively tasteless, but once Uncle Charlie caught a blue cod. Great excitement.

Several years ago Anne and I had a holiday weekend at Picton. We went across by the ferry and stayed at a motel overlooking the harbour. We went on a day vineyard trip. When we got back she bought fresh blue cod at a fish shop. That was a lovely meal, sitting on the lawn in front of our unit, a Riesling purchased in a vineyard that morning and the succulent fish, the harbour reflecting the gathering sunset, the wake of the departing ferry rippling the smooth surface. .

The other motel fish meal I recollect was at Westport. In a fish shop there we bought two brill – a fish I had never eaten before. Slightly stronger than the delicate taste of flounder. Rock oysters and chips at Manganui and Ohope also spring to mind

I’d read about snapper but not till I started teaching in the Waikato had I tasted it – the major catch in the Hauraki Gulf. The few times when living in Thames I went fishing the catch was snapper and gurnard.

I’ve eaten native pigeon. Once! I was aged four. We were exploring a beach in Pigeon Bay near our home when the bird struck overhead telephone wires. It fell to earth with a broken wing. Mum rung its neck, took it home, plucked and gutted it and cooked it for my brother and myself. I have no memory of the taste but I know we ate it. Once when I was older and began to boast about it Mum silenced me. Afterwards she said I must not talk about it.

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